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Author: Patricia Ash

Plant life: Juniper in decline

Updated Thursday, 1st April 2010

Once common in the UK, the juniper is now in decline. One planting project at the Aston Rowant nature reserve hopes to conserve the plant's genetic variability

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As habitat destruction can lead to extinction of species, many plants are at risk of extinction all over the world. In the UK, Natural England supports Plantlife's projects to save species from extinction. Examples of species at risk include cornflower, pheasant’s eye, starved wood sedge and many others.

The decline and subsequent conservation of juniper (Juniperus communis) demonstrates the challenges in preventing the extinction of plant species, and maintaining genetic diversity. Conservation work that focuses on juniper has benefits for the other plants and animals of threatened habitats in which it grows.

A juniper bush

There are three sub-species of Juniperus communis but they can interbreed and the offspring are known as 'intermediates'. Juniper was once common in the UK but declined because although able to live for up to 200 years, old bushes were not being replaced. The young bushes were grazed, overwhelmed by scrub or shaded out by trees.

Natural England has juniper planting projects at various locations, aiming to create self-sustaining populations. So far all known populations still show great genetic variability, an important point for conservation.

Ancient Juniper at Aston Rowant
An ancient juniper

A typical example of a planting project is on the Aston Rowant nature reserve in Oxfordshire, England, which had 2000 juniper bushes in the 1960s but just 500 by the late 1990s. The young juniper bushes planted at Aston Rowant by conservation volunteers were propagated at a local nursery from bushes on the site, so ensuring that the local genetic variability is conserved.

Protected Juniper
Protecting the growth of new juniper plants

How you can help

At local levels conservation volunteers can play a crucial role, as they do with replanting and protection of juniper for example.


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